Post Archive for December 2007

The Maggid’s 203rd Yahrzeit – 17 Teves 5768

Tomorrow, Wednesday the 17th of Teves (December 26), is the Maggid’s 203rd Yahrzeit.
A few years ago, when the Maggid’s 200th Yahrzeit came around, I was asked whether the Maggid had something to say on the topic of Yahrzeits. To this day, I have not come across anything in the Maggid’s commentaries that specifically addresses this topic. On the other hand, the Maggid often speaks of following in the footsteps of our forefathers. I would like to suggest that this principle is integrally related to the concept of Yahrzeit. We can say that the Yahrzeit of a departed one is a time to reflect upon the person’s positive qualities and commit ourselves to try to emulate them. Our efforts in this direction bring merit to the departed soul.
In this vein, we can take the opportunity at this time to reflect on the Maggid’s great qualities and try to follow his path. You can download an overview of the Maggid’s life and works by clicking here. Three points particularly stand out:
1.     The Maggid’s relentless devotion to Torah study and mitzvah observance.
2.     The Maggid’s detachment from material concerns.
3.     The Maggid’s deep concern for his fellow man.
Let us try to emulate the Maggid in these areas.
Our Sages say that a righteous man, even after he has departed, is still considered alive. This is because his influence lives on. In this sense, the Maggid is very much alive and active today.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Shemos

The following piece, related to this week’s parashah, is taken from my forthcoming (God willing) translation of the Maggid’s commentary on Shir HaShirim.
At the burning bush, Hashem told Moshe to go down to Egypt to lead the Jewish People out of slavery. Moshe asked (Shemos 3:11): “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should take the Children of Israel out of Egypt?” Hashem responded (ibid. 3:12): “For I shall be with you–and this is your sign that I have sent you: When you take the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” The last part of Hashem’s answer seems inscrutable. The Maggid provides a beautiful explanation.
The Maggid builds on a Midrash, which relates that Moshe argued as follows  (Shemos Rabbah 3:5 on Shemos 3:13): “I am destined to become an intermediary between You and them, when You give them the Torah and say to them (Shemos 20:1): ‘I am the Lord your God ….’” The Maggid explains that Moshe originally thought that the Exodus from Egypt and the Giving of the Torah were independent events. Hence he asked Hashem: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh? I am destined to become an intermediary between You and the Jewish People when You give them the Torah. And one agent cannot carry out two missions. So if I go to Pharaoh, who will act as Your intermediary at Sinai?”
Hashem replied: “This is your sign that I have sent you: when you take the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” Hashem was telling Moshe that the task of taking the Jews out of Egypt was not a new mission preempting the mission of acting as the intermediary at Sinai. Rather, this task was part of his original mission: The Exodus from Egypt was the first step leading to the Giving of the Torah. Thus, Moshe’s position as the intermediary at Sinai was the very reason he had to lead the Jews out of Egypt.
The Maggid brings out the idea further with an astute analogy. Suppose a workman–a tailor, for example–is doing a job in someone’s house. Obviously the customer will not suddenly ask the workman to run some other errands. If he did, the workman would object: “Am I here to be your errand-boy?” But if the workman is lacking some item that he needs for his work, it makes perfect sense for the customer to give him some money and tell him to go buy the item. Similarly, it was appropriate for Moshe–the man designated to act as the intermediary at Sinai–to take the Jews out of Egypt, for the Exodus was a necessary first step toward the Giving of the Torah. 
PS: This coming Wednesday, 17 Teves, is the Maggid’s 203rd Yahrzeit

David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayechi

The Torah relates that, after Yaakov’s death, Yosef made an effort to reassure his brothers that he would not harm them. The Midrash elaborates (Yalkut Shimoni I:162):
“And he consoled them and spoke to them reassuringly [literally: spoke to their hearts]” (Bereishis 50:21). This teaches that he said to them words that penetrate the heart. “Just as ten candles could not snuff out one candle, how can one candle snuff out ten candles?” [That is, if the ten of you (not counting Binyamin) could not subdue me, how could I alone subdue the ten of you? The Midrash goes on to quote further arguments that Yosef made.] Yosef reassured his brothers with good words, and consoled them with consoling words. And when HaKadosh Baruch Hu comes to console Yerushalayim – as it is written (Yeshayah 40:2), “Speak reassuringly to Yerushalayim” – it will be all the more so. Thus it is written (ibid. 40:1): “Be consoled, be consoled My people.”
Last week we presented one of the Maggid’s interpretations of this Midrash. Here we present another.
Let us first recall Yosef’s words (Bereishis 50:19–21):
Do not be afraid, for am I in place of God? Although you intended me harm, God intended it for good: in order to make it as it is today, so that a vast nation may be sustained. So now, do not be afraid – I will provide for you and your children.
Yosef was saying that it was necessary for him to be sent to Egypt, in order for him to be able eventually to provide for Yaakov’s entire family. Thus, he argues, there is no reason for him to be angry with his brothers for sending to Egypt. It was all part of God’s plan.
The Midrash tells us that a similar idea applies to our being cast into exile. The Maggid brings out the idea with a moving parable:
A man and woman got married. They loved each other very much, but they were unable to have children. So the husband went to some doctors for advice. The doctors said that the couple must separate for a period of time. Afterward, when the rejoin, they will be able to have children. When the husband returned home, he immediately sent his wife out, and kept her away for the specified time. It is clear that the wife had no reason to feel shame over being sent away. On the contrary, it was out of love that the husband did so, in order that she should be able to bear children with him, and become bound to him forever.
Similarly, when God sent us into exile, it was not out of anger, but out of love. It is necessary for us to endure the afflictions of exile in order to become purified and thereby become a fitting mate for God. And when we do, God will bring us back, to reunite with Him in an eternal bond.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Asarah B’Teves

This Wednesday we observe the fast of Asarah B’Teves, commemorating the day on which the Babylonians began their siege of Jerusalem during the First Temple period. This event marked the beginning of the end of the most glorious era in Jewish history, and led to the destruction of the Temple.
The fasts of Asarah B’Teves, Tzom Gedaliah, Shivah Asar B’Tammuz, and Tishah B’Av serve to arouse us to reflect on the great downfall we experienced when the Temple was destroyed. The Maggid’s commentary on Lamentations (Eichah), available in English translation in my book Voice of Weepers, brings out the various facets of this tragedy in a profound way. On the Voice of Weepers page of this site, I have posted two excerpts from this commentary. I highly recommend them for reading as a way to appreciate the significance of the upcoming fast day.
The following are some major themes that run through the commentary.
1. The Temple was the hub of our spiritual life. When it was destroyed, we suffered a enormous blow. The Jewish People, it its current state, is but a shadow of its former self.
2. The relationship God has with us is like the relationship between a father and a son. When we stray from the proper path, God must chastise us with afflictions. The afflictions are an act of love, designed to lead us to the ultimate good. We must recognize this fact and accept the afflictions. We must also understand that it causes God great pain to bring us suffering. In the midst of our own suffering, we should strive to feel God’s pain as well.
In his commentary on Lamentations 2:5, the Maggid describes how the destruction of the Temple brought with it the lost of the Torah system of governance, headed up by the Prophets, the Kohanim, and the Sanhedrin. The Maggid elaborates on the gravity of this loss in his commentary on the Book of Esther. The eleventh berachah of the daily Amidah (the berachah Hashivah Shofteinu) expresses a plea for the return of this system of governance:
Return our judges as at first and our counselors as at the beginning, and remove from us sorrow and groaning. And reign over us–You, O Hashem, alone–with kindness and compassion, and imbue us with righteousness through law. Blessed are You, Hashem, the King Who loves law and justice.
In our times, with the Land of Israel run by leaders opposed to Torah values, we can readily feel the sorrow and groaning. Let us pray for the restoration of our former glory, in all its aspects.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas and Haftaras Vayiggash

There is a famous saying: Maaseh avos siman l’banim – the deeds of the forefathers are a sign for their descendants. The meaning of this saying is that the actions of the forefathers forged a path for the Jews of all future generations. The Maggid compares this to a man digging a well: once the well is dug, it remains available for all future comers. The Maggid says further that God deliberately put the forefathers in certain plights so that their prayers would serve as a reservoir of salvation for future generations. On occasion, God does the same with other tzaddikim.
In this vein, the Maggid says, the confrontation between Yehudah and Yosef at the beginning of parashas Vayiggash was a harbinger of the future rift between the Kingdom of Yehudah and the Kingdom of Yisrael during the period of Bayis Rishon. (The leading tribe of the Kingdom of Yisrael was Ephraim, who comes from Yosef.) And their subsequent reconciliation was a harbinger of the reconciliation between these two kingdoms that will take place at the end of time.
This connection, the Maggid says, is the reason behind the choice of haftarah for parashas Vayiggash. In the haftarah, Hashem tells Yechezkel to take two pieces of wood, one representing Yehudah and the other Yisrael. Hashem then tells Yechezkel to put these two pieces of wood together, and watch them join together into one. This is a sign that Yehudah and Yisrael will eventually reach reconciliation.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

On Hallel

A major element of Chanukah is the daily recitation of Hallel. One of the highlights of Hallel is when we declare: “Give thanks to Hashem for He is good, for His kindness endures forever.” The Maggid, in his commentary on Esther 9:28, explains that the miracles that Hashem does for the Jewish People effect benefit not only the generation that experienced the miracle, but also all future generations. When Hashem does a great act of kindness for us, the time of year when that kindness was done becomes infused with blessing for all time. (This type of idea is also found in the works of other great Jewish thinkers – notably Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler in Michtav MeiEliyahu.) The Maggid compares the effect of a miracle to the digging of a well to aid a thirsty person. Once the well is dug, it benefits not only the person it was dug for, but also all others who travel through the same zone in the future. Similarly, when we travel through a certain zone in time, we benefit from the wellsprings of blessing that Hashem implanted into that zone in the past. Thus, when we recite Hallel, we are praising and thanking Hashem not only for past acts of kindness, but also for the benefits we ourselves reap from these acts in our own day.
PS: Interestingly, the analogy of the well also appears in the Maggid’s commentary on this week’s haftarah. I hope to post a piece on this in the coming days.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

On Yosef and His Brothers

This piece really belongs with next week’s parashah (Vayechi), but it is so beautiful that I could not resist posting it now. It is a fine example of the Maggid’s moving style.
The Torah relates that, after Yaakov’s death, Yosef made an effort to reassure his brothers that he would not harm them. The Midrash elaborates (Yalkut Shimoni I:162):
“And he consoled them and spoke to them reassuringly [literally: spoke to their hearts]” (Bereishis 50:21). This teaches that he said to them words that penetrate the heart. “Just as ten candles could not snuff out one candle, how can one candle snuff out ten candles?” [That is, if the ten of you (not counting Binyamin) could not subdue me, how could I alone subdue the ten of you? The Midrash goes on to quote further arguments that Yosef made.] Yosef reassured his brothers with good words, and consoled them with consoling words. And when HaKadosh Baruch Hu comes to console Yerushalayim – as it is written (Yeshayah 40:2), “Speak reassuringly to Yerushalayim” – it will be all the more so. Thus it is written (ibid. 40:1): “Be consoled, be consoled My people.”
This Midrash draws a very far-flung comparison. What does it mean?
Let us first explain the double language in the passage from Yeshayah: “Be consoled, be consoled My people.” We bring out the point with an allegory.
In a certain town, there were two women whose husbands went off to a distant land. One of the men was poor, and was traveling to seek a livelihood. The other man was rich, and simply wanted to get away from his wife, whose bad disposition and constant bickering had made living with her unbearable. And so he joined the poor man in his travels.
A long time went by, during which the women heard no word of their husbands, since they were so far from home. So the women approached various traveling merchants and asked them if they knew where their husbands were. One of the merchants came forward and said: “I saw your husbands – I even spoke with them face to face. They gave me letters to give to you.” The women pleaded with the merchant to dig the letters out of his sack right away, so that they could read them and be comforted. He told them: “At the moment, my dear ladies, I do not have time to rummage around for the letters. So, for now, just be happy with the news and go home. Come back to me tomorrow and I will give you the letters then.”
The rich man’s wife was very happy with this answer, and went home without saying another word. But the poor man’s wife did not budge, and she begged the merchant relentlessly to look for her letter and give it to her right then and there. The merchant asked: “Why are you so much more insistent about getting your letter than your neighbor, who just rejoiced over the good news and went home? Why are you pestering me so much that I feel I am about to choke? I told you already that when I get the chance I will dig out the letter for you.”
The poor man’s wife replied bitterly: “There is a big difference between me and my neighbor. She sits home comfortably and free of troubles, for she is wealthy. Her husband went off simply because of some quarrels she had with him, and her only worry was that he might never come back home, leaving her a virtual widow for the rest of her life. She had no idea whether his rage would quiet down. But now she knows that her husband asked you to bring her a letter to comfort her, and there is no greater solace than that. It is enough for her to know that her husband still loves her and will eventually return to her. Reading the letter is unimportant.
“But I am totally destitute and broken. I sit home and hope that Hashem will grant my husband a livelihood so that I, too, can provide for my family, and we need no longer go hungry. So how can the letter console me if I haven’t read it yet? I have no idea yet whether my husband found work or not. And so I am dying to see what the letter says. I cannot hold myself back – I cannot wait.”
We, the Bnei Yisrael, are like the rich man’s wife in this story. Our only worry and cause for lament is the fear that Hashem has abandoned us forever and will never again reconcile with us – far be it – as the gentiles claim in the harsh taunts they cast at us. And so it is enough for us to know that HaKadosh Baruch Hu feels pain over our pain, and sent the Yeshayah HaNavi to console us. There is no greater solace than knowing that Hashem has not ceased to feel compassion for us and continues to cherish us. We do not need to hear the consolatory message itself.
This is the idea behind Yeshayah’s prophecy of consolation (Yeshayah 40:1): “‘Be consoled, be consoled My people,’ says your God.” Yeshayah tells us that we should be consoled by the very fact that Hashem sent him to console us. This consolation should suffice. We need no longer be stricken with fear when faced with the shaming taunts of those who revile us.
Yosef’s consolation to his brothers is based on the same idea. In truth, the arguments that Yosef put forward to console his brothers were in themselves insufficient to dispel their great fear that he would take revenge on them. Consider Yosef’s first argument: “Just as ten candles could not snuff out one candle, how can one candle snuff out ten candles?” The logic of this argument is flawed, for Hashem has the power to grant victory to whoever He wants, regardless of the numbers. Thus, Hashem could easily have arranged for Yosef to subdue his brothers, especially since Yosef –as Viceroy of Egypt –had guards at his immediate disposal. Yosef’s other arguments were just as weak. Nothing that Yosef said amounted to solid reassurance. What really reassured Yosef’s brothers was the simple fact the Yosef made such an effort to console and reassure them. From this they saw that Yosef loved them wholeheartedly, and was concerned over their suffering. They had no need to concern themselves with the content of Yosef’s consolatory arguments.
This is the idea behind the double language in the verse describing Yosef’s consolation: “And he consoled them and spoke to them reassuringly.” Yosef’s great effort to reassure his brothers was in itself a full consolation.
We can now easily grasp the logic of the Midrash that we began with. Just as Yosef’s brothers were consoled by the simple fact that Yosef undertook to console them, all the more so we are consoled by Yeshayah’s message that Hashem has undertaken to console us. This alone is enough to ease our sorrow.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Mikeitz

In parashas Mikeitz, we read of Yosef’s rise to the position of viceroy of Egypt. In regard to this rise to greatness, the Midrash writes (Esther Rabbah 7:7):
Rachel’s descendants [Yosef and Mordechai] underwent the same kind of test and attained the same kind of greatness. First let us examine the tests. In the Torah it is written (Bereishis 29:10): “It came to pass, when she [Potiphar’s wife] spoke to Yosef day after day, and he did not listen to her appeals to lie with her.” Here it is written: “It came to pass, when they spoke to him day after day and he did not listen to them.” Now let us examine the greatness they attained. In the Torah it is written (Bereishis 41:42): “And Par’oh removed his signet-ring from his hand and put it on Yosef’s hand, and dressed him in linen garments ….” Here it is written (Esther 8:2): “And the king removed the signet-ring that he had given over to Haman, and gave it to Mordechai.” The Torah continues (Bereishis 41:43): “And he set him upon the chariot that accompanied his own, and they called out before him, ‘Governor!’.” Here it is written (Esther 6:9): “And let the garments and the horse be given over … and let them call out before him: “This is what is done for the man whom the king wishes to honor!’.”
Yosef and Mordechai became top rulers in powerful nations. Now, we do not usually find tzaddikim rising to such positions. Why not? And what made Yosef and Mordechai different?
The Maggid, in his commentary on Esther 3:2–4, answers as follows. Typically, God withholds worldly success from the righteous, so that their success should not distract them from Torah and mitzvos. God does not want the righteous to flourish so splendidly in worldly affairs that they become overcome with a drive for more worldly success.
A person who generally tries to act righteously but is not completely righteous experiences a struggle when he is faced with temptation. The Good Inclination and the Evil Inclination both try to influence him, pulling him in opposite directions. The Good Inclination usually prevails. But when the Evil Inclination presses very hard, day after day, the person is liable to succumb. When such a person experiences extraordinary worldly successes, the danger of getting wrapped up in them and falling from his exalted level is great.
But it is different with a person who has completely subdued his Evil Inclination. Such a person, who is imbued with a single-minded will to reject sin, is no longer swayed in the slightest by any temptation. Even when pressed day after day, he does not give in. Worldly success poses no danger to such a person. Hence God does not withhold from him any worldly blessing or honor. As the Gemara in Berachos 7a says, a person who is primarily righteous may face hardship, but a person who is completely righteous is granted a life of consummate blessing.
We can now see what made Yosef and Mordechai different. They both faced the same test: a temptation cast at them day after day. And neither of them succumbed. This proves that they had vanquished their Evil Inclination to the point where no trace of it was left within them. They were driven exclusively by their Good Inclination. Therefore God singled them out for unique worldly success.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Inaugural Post

Shalom and Chanukah Sameach! I am pleased to announce the opening of this new website/blog, devoted to the teachings of Rabbi Yaakov Kranz, the celebrated Maggid of Dubno. The Maggid, who lived around 200 years ago, is famous for his use of clever parables to bring out profound lessons.
I am David Zucker, the site originator and administrator. I was born in Baltimore, and now live in Jerusalem. I became interested in the Maggid around 2001, when I came across his commentaries on the Five Megillos and was impressed with their depth and beauty. From that point on, I have spent a lot of time studying the Maggid’s various works (click on “The Maggid’s Works” for a list). Since 2003, I have been translating into English the Maggid’s commentaries on the Five Megillos. So far, I have published volumes on Lamentations (Eichah), Esther, and Ruth. I have recently completed the volume on the Song of Songs, and I hope to publish this volume by this coming Pesach. For more information about these books, navigate to “NJMDP Publications” or to the volume-specific pages.
About a month ago, I decided to expand my efforts and “go online.” This website/blog is the result. I hope you will find the material on this site interesting and inspiring. You are cordially invited to submit comments and posts to this blog (I have set the default user role at “Contributor”).
Many people in the Jewish world are familiar with the Maggid and have heard or read some of his parables. When people quote the Maggid, they typically relate a Maggid parable and present a brief moral. But in the original works, the parables are only part of an intricate tapestry of commentary. If you read the book excepts I have posted on this site (on the volume-specific pages), you will see what I mean.
For the moment, though, I will kick off the “posts” segment of this blog with a typical brief presentation of one of the Maggid’s parables. It is one of my favorites. As a person with a background in statistics, some years ago I came up with the following saying: “It is good that there is variation in the world, because it gives statisticians the chance to make a living.” A number of years later, I found what the Maggid has to say on the topic of variation in the world, and I was bowled over. Here is the Maggid’s parable (from Ohel Yaakov, parashas Korach):
A guy shows up at a clothing store, just as the owner is locking up. The owner says, “Since you are here already, I’ll open the store back up and let you in.” So he opens up the store and turns on the lights. He asks: “What kind of clothes are you looking for? Work clothes? Casual clothes? Fancy clothes? Let me know, and I’ll show you what I’ve got.” The customer answers: “Oh, well, it’s all the same to me.” The owner then turns out the lights. The guy asks: “Why did you do that?” The owner answers: “Listen, buddy, if it’s all the same to you, what do you need the lights for?” The message, in brief, is that if not for variation there would be no use for the human intellect.
Chanukah is called the “Festival of Lights.” On the spiritual plane, light represnts wisdom and intellect. God put variation into the world because He wants us to exercise our human intellect and free choice. Our mission in life is to apply the light of wisdom and intellect to make the right choices: the choices that strengthen our relationship to God and build us up as spiritual beings. 
David Zucker, Site Administrator